Henderson, Welterweights, and March UFC Rankings

Over the last week, the three largest mixed martial arts promotions in North America all held important events. The UFC alone has put on two shows in the past 10 days. So there's a lot to talk about. Let's start with Dan Henderson.

On Saturday night, Hendo, a star in PRIDE and the UFC, won the Strikeforce light heavyweight title by knocking out Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante in the third round. Henderson is 40 years old, making him the second 40-year-old champion of a major MMA organization. Most people peak physically around their mid-20s, so it's tempting to look at a 40-year-old champ and think that reflects poorly on MMA.

But Henderson has something in common with Randy Couture, who was a UFC heavyweight champion at age 44. They're small for the weight class, unusually strong, with Olympic-caliber wrestling credentials. It seems plausible to me that this specific combination of attributes allows fighters to remain competitive at the highest level late in their careers. Henderson fought mostly at 185 lbs. in the UFC, and he's small at 205, but his wrestling and his strength prevent him from being thrown around, and he has a quickness advantage because he's really a middleweight who doesn't have to dehydrate himself for weigh-ins.

Henderson's punching power is incredible, and he throws with bad intentions. The win over Feijao wasn't as dramatic as his knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100, but not many fighters have a killer instinct to match Henderson's. He impressively put the fight away once Cavalcante was hurt, slamming punches into the side of Feijao's dome. Henderson becomes the fifth Strikeforce light heavyweight belt-holder in the last five fights. That's Babalu Sobral, Gegard Mousasi, King Mo Lawal, Feijao, and now Henderson.

The other title fight saw Marloes Coenen win a dramatic come-from-behind victory over challenger Liz Carmouche. After spending most of the second and third rounds on the wrong side of Carmouche's mount, and clearly behind on the judge's scorecards, Coenen caught the challenger in a triangle and forced a tap in the fourth round. People are comparing it to Anderson Silva's win over Chael Sonnen, and there's certainly a parallel to be drawn. Coenen, charming at the microphone and dangerous from any position, has got to be one of the most likable fighters around.

UFC and Bellator stuff a little later, but for now let's do rankings.

March 2011 UFC Rankings

The rankings below are exclusively for the UFC, so you won't see names like Henderson or Hector Lombard on these lists.

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs)

1. Cain Velasquez
2. Junior Dos Santos
3. Brock Lesnar
4. Shane Carwin
5. Roy Nelson
6. Frank Mir
7. Brendan Schaub
8. Ben Rothwell
9. Stefan Struve
10. Matt Mitrione

It is my policy not to rank people who haven't fought in over a year and are not scheduled to fight, so Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is not listed above, though he's presumably top-10 if he's healthy.

Make it Happen: Carwin vs. Rothwell

The UFC's shallow heavyweight pool makes Carwin vs. Rothwell a good matchup if both men are ever able to fight at the same time. There are Carwin-vs-Cheick-Kongo rumors afoot, and I guess that's better than nothing, but it seems kind of pointless to me. Kongo and Mitrione sounds more interesting.

Thank You, UFC, For: Dos Santos vs. Lesnar

Velasquez's shoulder injury is a bummer, but at least JDS isn't just on the shelf for a year, waiting for the champ to get healthy.

Light Heavyweight (186-205)

1. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
2. Jon Jones
3. Lyoto Machida
4. Rashad Evans
5. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
6. Ryan Bader
7. Thiago Silva
8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
9. Forrest Griffin
10. Phil Davis

Make it Happen: Griffin vs. winner of Machida/Couture

Griffin should be facing top-10 opponents, not Tito Ortiz. The man with the giant head hasn't won since 2006, and hasn't had an impressive win since 2001, which is a freaking decade ago. All his victories since September '01 were against Ken Shamrock, or split decisions, plus one UD over Patrick Côté, who was fighting in the wrong weight class. Tito, who pulled out of a fight with Little Nog because he needed stitches, says he wants Griffin instead. Too bad. Forrest has better things to do.

Thank You, UFC, For: Rua vs. Jones

This is one exciting matchup.

Middleweight (171-185)

1. Anderson Silva
2. Yushin Okami
3. Jorge Santiago
4. Demian Maia
5. Nate Marquardt
6. Vitor Belfort
7. Michael Bisping
8. Mark Muñoz
9. Alan Belcher
10. Rousimar Palhares

Until I'm absolutely certain that Chael Sonnen is not going to jail in the near future, I'm not listing him. Apparently the UFC, which has suspended Sonnen indefinitely, feels the same way. Wanderlei Silva, who has fought once in the last 20 months, needs to get a fight on his calendar, if for no other reason than so that I can hear "Sandstorm" more than once a year.

Make it Happen: Bisping vs. Muñoz

Why does everyone want Bisping to fight Sonnen? Seriously, do you live on an exclusive diet of trash talk? If I wanted to watch WWE, I would.

Thank You, UFC, For: Santiago vs. Brian Stann

I actually don't think this is a sensational matchup, but Santiago's addition to the UFC immediately re-energizes the lackluster middleweight division. If the UFC can add both Santiago and Georges St-Pierre to this weight class in 2011, all of a sudden 185 is full of compelling matchups.

Welterweight (156-170)

1. Georges St-Pierre
2. Jon Fitch
3. Jake Shields
4. Thiago Alves
5. B.J. Penn
6. Carlos Condit
7. Josh Koscheck
8. Martin Kampmann
9. Diego Sanchez
10. Dong Hyun Kim

Make it Happen: Condit vs. Sanchez

Fight of the Night, seriously.

Thank You, UFC, For: Dan Hardy vs. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson

The winner of this fight is back in the mix at welterweight. It's a matchup that makes sense, between two guys who both need a win, though it amazes me that Johnson is still trying to cut to 170. He's bigger than most middleweights.

Lightweight (146-155)

1. Frankie Edgar
2. Gray Maynard
3. Jim Miller
4. Sean Sherk
5. Anthony Pettis
6. George Sotiropoulos
7. Ben Henderson
8. Clay Guida
9. Melvin Guillard
10. Dennis Siver

Make it Happen: Guillard vs. Siver

Forget this "classic striker vs. grappler" stuff. How about a terrifying "striker vs. striker" throwdown?

Thank You, UFC, For: Henderson vs. Mark Bocek

This is intriguing on several levels. It features longtime WEC lightweight champ Henderson against a tough foe in his first UFC bout, and it will be interesting to see Henderson's gameplan against a submission specialist like Bocek. I would love to see the winner of this one take on Sotiropoulos.

Featherweight (136-145)

1. Jose Aldo
2. Mark Hominick
3. Manny Gamburyan
4. Diego Nunes
5. Kenny Florian
6. Chad Mendes
7. Dustin Poirier
8. Josh Grispi
9. Raphael Assunção
10. Michihiro Omigawa

Make it Happen: Mendes vs. winner of winner of Assunção/Erik Koch

Mendes is obviously being groomed for a shot at the belt, but he's maybe the most one-dimensional athlete in the UFC — a wrestler whose other skills are in question — and he needs another test.

Thank You, UFC, For: Nunes vs. Florian

This is a perfect choice for Florian's first bout at featherweight. The underrated Nunes poses a legitimate challenge, and this will be another indicator of how the WEC talent compares to established UFC contenders.

Bantamweight (126-135)

1. Dominick Cruz
2. Urijah Faber
3. Joseph Benavidez
4. Brian Bowles
5. Miguel Torres
6. Scott Jorgensen
7. Eddie Wineland
8. Brad Pickett
9. Demetrious Johnson
10. Takeya Mizugaki

Make it Happen: Bowles vs. Winner of Benavidez/Ian Loveland

Bowles against the winner of Torres/Pickett sounds good, too, but the timing works better for this.

Thank You, UFC, For: Faber vs. Wineland

There's a reason Faber is a fan favorite. He always puts on a great show, and Wineland is on a four-fight win streak.

UFC 127 and UFC on Versus 3

Another draw. On the heels of Edgar/Maynard II, a title fight with no winner, UFC 127 gave us another main event — this one for a shot at the welterweight belt — in which no one got his hand raised. I scored the fight for Jon Fitch, but a draw was actually pretty reasonable, and for once I'll give the judges credit. The real problem in this fight wasn't the judges, it was the scoring system. Why do we score round-by-round in a fight that only has three of them? Let's do this PRIDE-style and just declare a winner at the end. That way, you don't need to figure out whether a close round and a dominant round are both 10-9, you just say, "Hey, this guy did better." Problem solved.

This event also featured Michael Bisping's win over Jorge Rivera (which I don't want to get into), substantial upsets at 155 (Siver over Sotiropoulos) and 170 (Brian Ebersole over Chris Lytle), horrendous judging (Nick Ring over Riki Fukuda), and a Mark Hunt sighting. More recently, Diego Sanchez earned a controversial decision over Martin Kampmann. Everyone agrees that Kampmann won the first round. I thought Diego took both of the next two, but they were close. It's this 10-point must thing again. I didn't have a problem with the decision, but certainly we can understand why Kampmann thought he should have won after what he did to Diego's face.

UFC 128

Two weeks from now, UFC 128 features at least six pretty important fights. The obvious one is the light heavyweight title fight between Shogun Rua and Jonny "Bones" Jones. Can Rua derail another unstoppable star, as he did to Lyoto Machida? Jones looks unstoppable, but so did Machida until he met Shogun. I have repeatedly advised against doubting Jones, but in a strictly non-monetary way, I'm leaning towards Rua. Oddsmakers have Jones, the challenger, as a 2-1 favorite.

The card also features Faber/Wineland (take Faber), presumably for a coaching stint on TUF 14 and a shot at the bantamweight belt. Jim Miller and Joseph Benavidez will be heavily favored in their respective bouts, but each is top-10 in his weight class and well worth watching. Raphael Assunção is probably one impressive victory from landing a marquee fight at 145, and Brendan Schaub will remind us all again how much we wish Mirko Cro Cop had retired already. Meanwhile, Nate Marquardt and Yoshihiro Akiyama desperately try to prove they're still relevant.

Very unofficial Sports Central parlay: Faber + Benavidez + Marquardt + Schaub

Bellator Season Four

Bellator is clearly the third-best U.S.-based MMA promotion, but Saturday's Season Four debut on MTV2 featured a strong welterweight division that is probably behind only the UFC. Bellator doesn't have anyone as good as Nick Diaz, but it does have half a dozen fighters who could compete in the UFC, which Strikeforce probably does not. Unfortunately, the tournament kicked off with some controversy, most notably a bad stoppage by referee Josh Rosenthal.

I think everyone recognizes that Rosenthal stopped the Jay Hieron/Anthony Lapsley fight too early, but let's be real: Hieron was dominating, and he almost certainly would have won anyway. Fighter safety is paramount, and it always should be, but refs have got to get better at recognizing when a fighter has and has not lost consciousness. Remember Mac Danzig at UFC 115? Also, fighters need to stop letting themselves get choked unconscious. It's stupid. Yes, Damacio Page, this means you. Going out doesn't make you a badass, it makes you a moron. If you're going to sleep, tap. There's no dignity in napping in public.

The opening fight on the televised Bellator card also drew some criticism, as underdog Brent Weedman won a decision over Dan Hornbuckle, prompting boos from the crowd. I had Hornbuckle ahead, too, but it was a close fight. In other action, Lyman Good won an easy victory over Chris Lozano and Olympic judoka Rick Hawn struck his way to a decision over Judo Jim Wallhead. The second round will pit Good vs. Hawn and Hieron vs. Weedman. I could see Hawn using his grappling to beat Good the same way Ben Askren did last year, but I would love to see Good and Hieron face off for a shot at Askren's belt.

Regarding this season's lightweight tournament, which begins next week, let's be honest. There's no one here who's going to challenge Eddie Alvarez for the title. The biggest names in the tournament are perpetual runner-up Toby Imada and has-been Rob McCullough, whose last impressive fight was in 2007. I'm looking forward to the rest of the welterweight tournament, though. I'd like to see Hornbuckle fight Lapsley, with the winner as injury replacement for the rest of the tourney.

Speaking of matches to make, Dan Henderson vs. Fëdor Emelianenko. Yes, please.

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